Seven New Wonders, a hundred million votes, one underground river

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By JACKY LYNNE A. OIGA
August 21, 2011, 10:56am

Exploring the seemingly boundless wonders of the Underground River.

MANILA, Philippines — Stretching 32.7 kilometers, Palawan’s Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) is currently regarded as the longest underground estuary in the world. On November 11, 2011, it could be known as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature (N7WN) – if every Filipino cell phone user would be willing to send a mere P2.50 text message to vote.

Located 50 kilometers north of Puerto Princesa City and nestled underneath St. Paul Mountain, the underground river passes through glistening formations of limestone rocks, melancholic chambers, cathedral-like cavern, stalactites, stalagmites and aesthetically unique speleothems.

From 440 natural sites nominated in 2007, the list was trimmed down to 28 finalists based on unique beauty, diversity and distribution across the globe, ecological significance and historical legacy. PPUR, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the only finalist from the Philippines competing against 27 other sites in the global poll.

Texting campaign

To maximize the advocacy towards a strengthened public awareness campaign in the domestic and international fronts, President Benigno S. Aquino III recently signed Proclamation No. 182 “Declaring a National and International Promotion Campaign for PPUR as one of the N7WN”.

Under Proclamation No. 182, a PPUR-N7WN Campaign Task Force was created to vigorously promote and push for the declaration of PPUR among the N7WN. The task force will also formulate and undertake an aggressive voting campaign at the national and international levels, especially among overseas Filipinos and nationals of other countries.

“There are 80 million cell phone users in the Philippines, sending two billion messages a day. If we need a billion votes to win, that’s only half a day,” said President Aquino during his declaration speech.

In an estimation of telecommunication companies, Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn said Filipinos could easily generate 180 million votes until November, “That’s actually more than enough. If we get to a hundred million we can already secure a spot in the Magic 7.”

Hagedorn continued, “PPUR has consistently made it to the top list when it comes to voting trends. We know a lot of our fellow Filipinos have already voted. But their support doesn’t stop there. We also need everyone to campaign.”

Tri-media and global promotion

The next two months are expected to be crucial in the promotion and advertising activities of the PPUR before the announcement of winners on November 11. To maximize the opportunities for promotion, the government is tapping the media to yield greater public appreciation and awareness of the Underground River.

The Department of Tourism (DoT) was designated as one of the lead agencies tasked with the promotion and implementation of advocacy campaigns in the tri-media and the domestic and global travel trade.

The DoT – Southern Tagalog Region, through its Regional Director, Louella Jurilla, is tasked to promote the advocacy program and develop a series of activities that will encourage public support for the PPUR.

“We have been hosting familiarization visits to Puerto Princesa City for media practitioners and media launches in the Visayas and the Mindanao region,” said Jurilla. “In fact, we just had a successful Cebu launch where Cebu stakeholders pledged their support to PPUR.”

According to the DoT, over the last eighteen months, outgoing Secretary Alberto Lim has carried out active promotion of the PPUR in the global market projects implemented in Canada, United States, Germany, France, Russia, and Australia.

New discoveries

On the average, 200 visitors traverse the Underground River onboard a small paddled boat a day. Equipped with a handheld searchlight to see through the dark cavern, the boat slices through calm waters amidst stunning limestone formations, a swarm of swallows and sleeping bats.

Only one kilometer of the river is open to the public during river tours which usually take an hour, back and forth. However, from February to March 2011, a group of scientists and explorers from the La Venta Esplorazioni Geografiche, an Italian research group which processes, organizes and manages geographical exploration projects, came to Palawan and discovered that there are more hidden gems in the dark recesses of the underground river.

According to the official declaration of the La Venta delegation, “while the main active branch of the river has a total of 8.7 kilometers from the main entrance of tourists, the total exploration has mapped out 32.7 kilometers of total development of the underground system.”

Along these galleries, distinctive calcite helictites or crystal formations were discovered, demonstrating the exceptional karst system of PPUR. The scientists also found a small underground river within the PPUR that can only be reached by foot, a bat burial site and an astounding well-preserved fossil of a sea mammal of the Miocene Age, confirmed by paleontologists as a Sirenia or sea cow.

Tourism boom

For such an elite search, there are no monetary prizes for the seven winning host countries. However, the economic value of being voted as one of the N7WN has been estimated at one billion US dollars over five years. The projection is based on an independent impact report released by Grant Thorton, an international organization of chartered accountants and management consultants.

Thorton’s projections were based on the campaign to choose the man-made New 7 Wonders of the World that culminated in 2007, in which 100 million votes were cast. Its report stated that the ‘measurable’ results were seen at sites which made the top seven shortlisted in the said campaign.

Likewise, Hagedorn said, since the nomination of PPUR in the prestigious search, tourism influx in Puerto Princesa has grown by leaps and bounds. “Since N7WN, both local and foreign visitor arrivals have doubled. In fact, there was even a time we had 1,200 visitors in the underground river in just one day, record breaking ‘yon.”

Puerto Princesa City had an overall total of 417,593 tourist arrivals in 2010. This year, from January to May, tourist arrivals have already reached 207,806. Good thing the PPUR is highly sustainable because of its high-thermal equation location that gives out enough energy to offset the effects of high-impact tourism.

Voting can be cast by logging on to www.new7wonders.com or through text by typing PPUR and sending it to 2861 (for all networks in the Philippines).

To vote via SMS in other countries, type PPUR then send to the following: Canada (77077), Australia (19788555), United Arab Emirates (3888), South Korea (001-1588-7715), South Africa (34874), Poland (write Puerto and send to 7155), Taiwan (type N7WPPUR and send to 55123).

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